Friday, July 29, 2011

Munich Opera Festival 2011: Gloriously sung Rosenkavalier with the smell of Mothballs

Der Rosenkavalier, Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, July 23 2011

Bayerische Staatsoper House with its pillars dressed in festive stockings

Conductor ..... Constantin Trinks
Director ..... Otto Schenk

Die Feldmarschallin ..... Anja Harteros
Der Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau ..... Peter Rose
Octavian ..... Sophie Koch
Herr von Faninal ..... Martin Gantner
Sophie ..... Lucy Crowe
Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin ..... Ingrid Kaiserfeld
Valzacchi ..... Ulrich Reß
Annina ..... Heike Grötzinger
Ein Polizeikommissar ..... Christoph Stephinger
Der Haushofmeister bei der Feldmarschallin ..... Kenneth Roberson
Der Haushofmeister bei Faninal / Ein Wirt ..... Francesco Petrozzi
Ein Notar ..... Christian Rieger
Ein Sänger ..... Piotr Beczala
Drei adelige Waise ..... Evgeniya Sotnikova, Martha Hirschmann, Angela Brower
Eine Modistin ..... Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
Ein Tierhändler ..... Dean Power

The Bavarian State Orchestra
The Chorus of the Bavarian State Opera 

The Munich Opera Festival takes place every year in July. That, I believe, was the most clever way to make their opera-house today be considered the most prestigious in the world. During this month of Festival  the Bavarian Opera presents all its new productions premiered during the past operatic season and also adds two new productions specifically saved for the Festival (this year those were Saint François d'Assise and the most impressive Mitridate Re di Ponte that I'll blog about soon). To cover all the tastes the artistic management also rerun some not-so-old productions, such as the fantastic Robert Carsen's Ariadne auf Naxos (one of his best productions ever), or Lucrezia Borgia by Christof Loy, or somewhat older Tristan und Isolde by Peter Konwitschny... The casts are always superbly chose as to fit well one another which result in a very homogenous good singing, which adds to the amazing acoustics of both the Staatsoper house and the Prinzregententheater.

This Rosenkavalier actually helps you not to go overboard with gushing about how everything is so amaaaazing at the Bavarian Staatsoper (BSO): this production of Rosenkavalier is older than me, with some kitschy decors that have the only purpose to bring too many colors to the public which even made the folks applauding when the curtains went up at the beginning of the Act 2.
Do not get me wrong! Schenk was great at his time and marked the operatic world in a way similar to that of Goetz Friedrich. I would not want to trash the name of the author of this production. It was certainly great at its time, it was recorded twice and released on DVD, and I guess it's time to move on and create something different, something that resonates more with our time. Like everything in life, the theater changes, it evolves and breathes with trends of the society we live in. That and the renovated score readings are the essential elements that keep opera from being dead art.

I also noticed that next year the Munich Opera will include in their program the ~40 years old production of La Cenerentola  by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (RIP). Why? To make people believe nothing has changed since 40 years (despite the obvious!) How anti-artistic, retrograding, and decadent is that!  [The Paris Opera will do the same in November 2011, but while this suits well the bad taste of the current artistic direction of the Paris Opera, the same thing in Munich is hugely surprising!]

With the cast lined up for this Rosenkavalier at BSO, they would have sold out the shows with any production. Why not using something simple, something they could have rented from Mannheim, Augsburg, Weimar, Komische?!

No my rant does not end here. Although I had a fantastic seat -- next to the presidential box, the folks who I was sharing the box with were talkative during the entire show, the women wore their best dresses with aggressive jewelry and clouds of perfume that, when combined, were itching everyone's eyes -- including theirs. All men were visibly uncomfortable but proud in their formalwear and stoically  waited the lights to go off to loosen up their bow-ties and to get rid of the jackets. So, with the kitsch on the stage and mirrored in the public the whole atmosphere resembled a caricature of opera as a lieu for entertaining the rich & conservative bourgeoisie. That unfortunately defined my mood for the evening and even during the intermissions I found extra elements that added up to make the whole spectacle look quite grotesque to me (including the Venice-glass chandelier that decorates the space in front of the presidential box.)

Silver lining? Yes, the singing. Big time! All four protagonists were absolutely stunning. Sophie Koch is the best Octavian in business, and she sounds even better than before. Her Octavian is hard to beat not only because she recites it so wonderfully, sings it impeccably, but also because her scenic presence is perfect for the role. She never overacts, nor lets her femininity resurface too much to make the role looking too fake. She is just perfect! Lucy Crowe is one of my favorite singers. NOBODY can sing baroque repertoire like she does and I wasn't sure what to expect from her Sophie -- this is so different from baroque. She can nail all the notes without thinning her voice in the upper register, and that's what makes her Sophie sound splendid. She is scenically wonderful too (her innocent looks definitely help!) The cherry on the cake was Anja Harteros who made her role debut as Marschallin here and she did it magnificently. Well, we expected nothing less than great from her. Whatever she decides to sing these days, she "kills" it. Nobody ever sang Elsa better than her, her Elisabeth is brilliant, her Mimi, or Violetta, or Amalia are arguably the best in business, and her Desdemona is unbeatable by any standard...) Here, she just confirms that right now she is the best soprano of her fach in business. My favorite Marschallin moment, however, will remain the most touching interpretation by Anne Schwanewilms (see videos below) who sang the role as good as Anja Harteros but was helped by the staging that made her Da geht er ihn extra-poignant. Finally Peter Rose rose to the challenge and sang wonderfully the tricky part of Ochs auf Lerchenau: he sang it with power, without skipping the very low notes or making them inaudible, with no vocal tries to sound funny (that often spoils the way this role's sung) and has a 5-stars scenic presence.Very impressive performance by Mr. Rose! BRAVI all four!
To them I should add Piotr Beczala who sang his short tenor part with his usual vocal opulence and  solidity.

In the beginning of the show the orchestra was not properly power-tuned and maestro Constantin Trinks was constantly going crescendo to drown the singers. Someone must have told him during the intermission to correct that, and in the second act his conducting was radically different -- maybe even too much apprehensive. The third act instead was a sheer beauty and a complete demonstration how the Strauss' music should be performed. I am sure the later shows were superb from the get go.

Three production pics [©BSO] are maybe redundant as this production has been released on DVD twice [sic! - this and this], and has traveled around the world many times too, but I still post theme here:

This is the scene of Act-2: when the curtain went up the public started clapping (which I thought was slightly boorish)

Bravissima Anja Herteros

Magnificent Lucy Crowe and Octavian from another cast

My curtain call pics:

After Act-1 (from the right: Beczala, Harteros, a kid, Sophie Koch)

After Act 2: Lucy Crowe and Sophie Koch

Huge ovations for Anja Harteros

Gradioso Peter Rose

Maestro Constantin Trinks

Almost the entire cast + Maestro
Two videos -- finale of the first act of the same opera staged by Uwe Eric Laufenberg (it is not regie but it is one of the two recommendable productions released on DVD -- the other being Robert Carsen show in Salzburg) -- one of the touchiest subtle moments in opera [Anne Schwanewilms sings with the Staatskapelle Dresden under Fabio Luisi at his best]. Enjoy :)


  1. Beautiful production!!!
    When replaced will be missed

  2. Don't worry too much! There are two DVD's with the same production and you may run them on ad vitam aeternam.

  3. Well, it´s not the same production...both are directed by Schenk, but are different (I prefer the Munich one over the Vienna one). And yes, I have both DVDs! (both conducted by Kleiber, who probably believed both productions were great!)
    And by the way, I´m also younger than these productions

  4. Good for you then! Reactionary culture will always have its followers - which is fine too.

  5. I have seen and heard some really great opera performances in Munich but I have to agree that the audience there is particularly stuffy and snooty. Maybe it's worse during the summer festival? I went two years ago and ended up wearing jeans to some performances (I am female). You should have seen the looks I got! lame.

  6. Hi mj! I close my eyes and can see that picture clearly :)
    It really makes you want to come to the opera wearing dirty tennis shoes and a sweaty T. Bring them on evil eyes! :)